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SAG prexy to chair negotiations committee

Move comes as group gears up for bargaining

Screen Actors Guild president Ken Howard, who has used his tenure to repair relations with AFTRA, has been named to chair SAG’s negotiating committee, which is gearing up to bargain with the congloms over feature and primtime master contracts.

The appointment was not a surprise, given that the SAG board has opted for its last two presidents — Alan Rosenberg and Melissa Gilbert — to head the negotiating committees. Howard was elected last fall on a promise to pursue pragmatism and a merger with AFTRA.

He also was named national head of the guild’s wages and working conditions committee, which will begin meeting with members in June to hammer out a contract proposal. SAG’s Hollywood, New York and regional division leaders will name members to the “W and W” committee before June, with those reps subsequently becoming members of the negotiating committee.

The unanimous appointment of Howard by SAG’s national board of directors comes five and a half months before the start of negotiations and during a weekend meeting at its Hollywood headquarters that was notable for its lack of boardroom fireworks.

The relative lack of rancor at the weekend session contrasted sharply with board meetings in recent years — particularly during the last round of negotiations with the companies. The board’s self-styled moderates, who gained control in the fall of 2008, objected to the aggressive negotiating style of Rosenberg and then-national exec director Doug Allen. They subsequently fired Allen over the strident objections of the self-styled progressives in Membership First in Hollywood.

AFTRA split from SAG in early 2008 and negotiated its own primetime deal that was ratified by members nearly a year before SAG reached a similar deal with the companies. Since then, companies have opted to sign deals with AFTRA rather than SAG on new series shot on digital.

Plenty of animosity remains between the two rival SAG factions — most recently over the issue of how committee members are appointed. Earlier this year, the Hollywood division, where Membership First retains a narrow majority, approved new rules that allow elected reps to vote “cumulatively” for a single candidate for committee slots.

That move probably ensures that the Hollywood division will be repped on the negotiating committee by some of the moderate Unite for Strength members. Membership First attempted unsuccessfully to overturn that rule during last Wednesday’s rancorous Hollywood division meeting and may try again at upcoming division meetings.

SAG’s negotiations are set to start Oct. 1 with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. SAG’s bargaining jointly with AFTRA on the primetime, or Exhibit A deal.

SAG and AFTRA will each have 13 negotiating committee members. Rosenberg and Allen campaigned unsuccessfully in 2007 for AFTRA to have a reduced number of committee members, based on the amount of earnings each union generated. That move paved the way for AFTRA to ditch SAG and negotiate its own deal in 2008.

SAG’s national board also approved over the weekend a budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, following a year of operating at a $4 million deficit with three dozen staff cuts.

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